Murder victim was scared to leave his house

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The Independent Online

Barbara Yusuf-Porter, the daughter of a Somali immigrant, said her son, Lee Phipps, was convinced that their house in South Tyneside was being watched in the days before he was murdered and she said she made a mobile telephone call to check on him after he left their house for the last time, nine days ago.

Mr Phipps, who was on his way to photograph the snow-covered Cleadon Hills near by, reassured her of his safety in their two-minute conversation and did not seem anxious. But an hour after their conversation he was found dead outside a house in South Shields. His injuries included a fatal stab wound to the heart. Police believe the murder may be racially motivated.

"There had been people hanging about and that had made Lee anxious about going out," said Mrs Yusuf-Porter, 53. "That's why when he left the house that last time I watched him until he had passed right out of sight. I am convinced that behind Lee's death is the dislike among some people for the fact that he and I have stood our ground against racism in this place and not tolerated it. He was sure someone was watching our house and now it's come to this."

Mrs Yusuf-Porter has campaigned ardently against racism and invested £5,000 in four CCTV cameras, though her deep suspicion of Northumbria Police has made a relationship with officers all but impossible. The cameras, positioned at the back and front of her house and pointing in opposite directions, may now prove vital to detectives though it may take them days to work through the 300 video cassettes thatMrs Yusuf-Porter says she has provided.

Officers have begun to build a picture of how Mr Phipps died, after a slow start to the inquiry which led the senior investigating officer, Detective Superintendent Steve Wade, to express disappointment at the community's response to his appeals for witnesses. It is now clear that Mr Phipps, 31, struggled to defend himself against his assailant but was stabbed several times before staggering to a house on Cleadon Hill Road, where he collapsed on the driveway.

His body was found at 5.20pm last Thursday, below bloody handprints on the front-door handle and doorbell. A camera found with his body had not been used, which suggests he never made it to the hills.

The local Asian community has been unwilling to discuss publicly the local levels of racial intolerance, for fear of inflaming the situation. Mrs Yusuf-Porter's spiritual leader would not be drawn on the subject as he spent time with her yesterday and police have made no reference to the racial aspect since announcing it was a part of their inquiry.

Mrs Yusuf-Porter was born in Britain to a Somali father who served in the Merchant Navy during the Second World War and met his white British wife while his home port was Hull. Mr Phipps's mother was also in a mixed-race marriage and she believes this contributed to them being the victims of racial discrimination. Swastika graffiti has been daubed near their home and people have shouted insults such as "black bastards", "Pakis" and "niggers".

Racial conflict is not new to South Shields. It was the scene of Britain's first race riots at the end of the First World War after the town's new community of Yemenis - recruited from Aden, then under British protection, to make up for a shortfall in crew on British merchant vessels - settled there. The Yemenis came under attack from local seamen who returned at the end of the war to find their jobs had gone.

After the attacks on America on 11 September 2001, racists hung an effigy of Osama bin Laden from a pedestrian bridge in the town and firebombed a mosque. In 2003, Mr Phipps required hospital treatment after being attacked while photographing racists. His father, Des Phipps, said Lee did not have a wide circle of friends, and preferred to devote his time to his three passions in life: photography, wildlife and Newcastle United football club. "He was a shy, reserved harmless man," he said.

Three men have been arrested in South Tyneside and released on police bail.